Leadership burnout


I have written before about the importance of taking care of the wellbeing and mental health of your people, but what if you yourself, as a leader, are struggling with your own mental health?  If you focus on taking care of your people, but not yourself, the risk of you experiencing burnout is even higher.  Taking your own oxygen mask first is essential if you want to inspire and lead your team.

The first and most important thing to remember is that we live our lives as if we are running a marathon – not a series of sprints.  Running a marathon is a huge physical challenge, and one which takes its toll on your body.  When you forget about your own needs and work flat out, your brain simply will not perform effectively. Your amygdala – the part of the brain that controls emotional reactions – becomes enlarged meaning that you can become moody and react more strongly to stress.  Parts of the brain that control memory and attention are weakened, and connectivity between different parts of the brain reduce, impacting on your ability to be creative and solve problems.  Your overall performance will suffer, and the morale of your team will be impacted.  You are not a superhero – taking care of your own needs is not only essential to your own wellbeing but it signals to your team that it should be a priority to them too.

Time is a finite resource, but our energy is not.  If you approach your work as a series of sprints, you will automatically build in recovery time.  Your recovery time is the time you devote to renewing your energy.  Energy comes from four main wellsprings in human beings:

  • The body – e.g. physical exercise, quality of sleep, nutrition, levels of alcohol and caffeine consumption
  • The mind – e.g. mindfulness, relaxation, talking therapies, gratitude practices, journaling
  • Emotional – e.g. finding someone to speak to for support, practicing self-compassion, breathing exercises
  • Purposeful – e.g. finding and connecting with the meaning in the work that you do, or in your life outside of work

Choose the wellspring(s) that resonates most closely with your own interests and start by identifying some positive rituals that you can introduce into your day.  These are behaviours that you practice intentionally – ideally at the same time each day – so that they become unconscious and automatic.  Don’t wait until you are on the brink of burnout, think like an athlete and prioritise that crucial recovery time.


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